Flattered, but still far away.
That was Odell Beckham Jr.’s reaction to Panthers coach Ron Rivera’s comparison of his play to that of Hall of Famer Jerry Rice. Rivera said he saw the same kind of “flashes” from the second-year Giants receiver that Rice showed in his 20-year NFL career.
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“To be mentioned in the same sentence as Jerry Rice is still shocking to me,” Beckham said Thursday. “What he accomplished and the things he was able to do, that’s where you want to go, the direction you want to go. But I’m nowhere near there. I do appreciate the compliment and I’ll keep working.”
Rivera’s remark was eye-opening for many because Rice is considered the greatest receiver of all time. He certainly has the greatest numbers. And Beckham is a student of the game’s history — note both his homage to Ray Lewis with a touchdown dance and his insistence on greeting Dan Marino during a halftime ceremony Monday night in Miami — so he undoubtedly understood the significance.
But Beckham was only 10 years old when Rice had his last 1,000-yard season in the NFL and was only 12 when he retired. So as he shaped his own game, it wasn’t Rice he watched, but more contemporary players.
Get ready to feel old.
“I used to watch Larry Fitzgerald, how he would go up and attack the ball,” Beckham said. “How Megatron [Calvin Johnson] would go up and attack the ball. I’d watch how DeSean Jackson gets open down the field and how he uses his speed. And watch how Vic [Cruz] uses his quickness. I would try and take everybody’s strength and try to combine it into my own game and use it. Really take a lot of things that they did and try to make it your own craft.”
That all of those role models still are active speaks not only to the durability of their careers but also to the infancy of Beckham’s. And given his numbers through 25 games — which are far ahead of Rice’s — it certainly is possible that Beckham at some point will be considered the greatest of all time.
For now, he’s happy to let Rice hold that title, at least in the scope of NFL history. As far as his own franchise is concerned, Beckham is closer to establishing himself as the Giants’ GOAT.
At 23, he already is about to unify the three biggest single-season receiving records in franchise history. For years, the marks for touchdown receptions (Homer Jones, 13, 1967), receiving yardage (1,536, Cruz, 2011) and catches (107, Steve Smith, 2009) have belonged to three different players. Beckham needs only 23 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns to own all of them. And he has three games to do so.
Beckham led all receivers in fan voting for the Pro Bowl, it was announced Thursday, and finished seventh overall. Only Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was ahead of him among non-quarterbacks.
“It’s awesome,” Beckham said. “Obviously that’s the goal, to either be in the Super Bowl or be in the Pro Bowl. And right now we’re working for Santa Clara.”
That’s the home of Super Bowl 50 and the home of the 49ers, the team with which Rice is most associated. Beckham’s career stats may be off to a better start than Rice’s, but Rice went to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons and eventually was part of three Super Bowl champions. To be compared to Rice, Beckham will have to put up some postseason numbers as well.
Beckham said he never has met Rice in person, but they have communicated. “A great guy who will give me tips whenever he feels the need to,” Beckham said. “Just making sure he looks out for me like a big brother. He wants us, receivers in general, to succeed, and he’s definitely helped me out along the way.”
Perhaps in no bigger way than by setting a bar for which Beckham can aim.